We chatted with some of the mountain bike ambassadors from Vittoria Industries Inc and they told us how they got into racing, the challenges they’ve faced, and tips for anyone who wants to get into racing.
The women all started on different paths. Joanna Petterson calls her story cliché, “I saw Missy Giove racing and I was like, ‘I have to try that,’ and I did and I was addicted. I’ve been racing for about 17 years now.”
Samantha Kingshill started her racing career at a young age. “My parents rode [motorcycles] and when that got too expensive, we got the bikes and we were pretty mellow at it,” Kingshill explains, “And then basically, I ended up surpassing them and they’re all like ‘okay, we’ve got to kindle the fire.’”
When she was 10 years old, Kingshill’s parents entered her into her first cross-country race at the Sea Otter Classic. At 17, she is now racing downhill. “I’m having a blast,” she says.
“Racing collegiate is where it took off for me,” says Sarah Rawley. “I raced cross-country and short track. Then I went on to jump into the industry at a fairly young age and kept racing. I transitioned into enduro about five years ago and my love of racing grows every year. I actually thought I’d be tired of it by now, but I’m not.”
Teal Stetson-Lee was also a collegiate athlete racing cross-country, “That’s kind of what jump-started my cycling career. Then I realized that cross-country was great, but I was really riding up so I could ride down and enduro seemed like the right fit.”
For Syd Schulz, the challenges were more mental. “I jumped into the racing crowd before I really was ready,” she says. “I was like, ‘hey, I’m not that great at this.’ I had to learn to overcome that and work on skills.”
Rawley says, “A big challenge for me personally – and a lot of other women — is balancing my professional life with racing. Often, I show up to a race and I’m thinking about what’s at hand, as well as running my businesses, or my job, or doing the media for the actual event. That can be pretty taxing mentally and physically.”
And at the top level, there’s the task of finding sponsors. “It’s always been a challenge with sponsors for sure. Sponsorship for women is pretty hard to get,” says Petterson. “I got into the sport at a time when the money had disappeared and so all the top women…my idols…were kind of still racing, but there really wasn’t a lot of money left. Racing for women had dropped off a lot, but it’s exciting to see it grow again.”
The change in the women’s race scene didn’t deter Petterson, “I just I bought a bike and nothing was really gonna stop me.”
Jordan Dube explains more about the challenges the women’s race circuit faces, “We get less coverage, we get earlier start times, women’s races get cut shorter so the men’s can start on time…so to get the same experience the men are getting can sometimes be a challenge. In New England, where I’m from, we have a ton of female advocacy, which is really great, and things are improving a lot.”
Whether racing is appealing because you’re in it to win it or you’re just looking for the camaraderie with like-minded people, the ambassadors shared their advice for aspiring racers.
“If you want to get into racing, I would say be patient with yourself,” says Stetson-Lee. “It’s a process whether you’re racing or learning how to ride. You’ve got to do it because you love it. Stay true to that as your core passion, and then be patient with yourself and know that the development process takes time.”
Kate Dooley says, “Don’t be shy. Everyone is really, really friendly. I didn’t know anyone when I started, but pretty much every single friend that I have now is from cycling. Whether it’s just riding from a shop ride, people that have raced against me, and who have crushed my soul, or people I have bonded with in the pouring rain while taking off our chamois because there’s too much chafe…yeah. True story.”
“You can really progress a lot and you can learn from other people so don’t be afraid to ask questions,” Rawley advises. “We all started as beginners, the hardest thing to do is to show up.”
“This is a community that loves to grow,” Dube continues, “Our national champion was actually out on the course earlier today helping me ride, which is so good because she didn’t have to do that. But we’re all like that in this sport because we want to help each other.”
On the sponsorship side, Schulz gives this advice, “Stay authentic to the kind of athlete that you want to be, or that you are, and work with brands that respect that — don’t go chasing after what’s trendy on a certain day — build those relationships.”
Petterson sums it up, “Just don’t let anything stop you. You can be shy and not really feel that you fit in, but if you’re passionate about it, just persist, persevere, and make it happen. It’s an incredible sport to participate in and if you love it, just figure out a way to do it. Make sacrifices because it’s totally worth it.”